Every now and then, laws paved with good intentions backfire spectacularly and end up somewhere else entirely, as Spain is just about to discover. A new copyright law, which is scheduled to be ratified in January, has prompted Google to pull Google News from Spain: never before has the search-and-advertising behemoth withdrawn the service from a country.
So here’s how it happened: the Spanish publisher association put a lot of effort into lobbying the Spanish government to charge aggregators for lost revenue. Google News, which shows small samples of news content on its site, would be hit by the legislation and face a monthly fee. The new law would also mean Google have to pay advertisers. As Google News doesn’t make a penny from advertising, this turned out to be a step too far: Google did the equivalent of picking up the football it had supplied and walking it off the pitch.
Spain’s Google now provides only normal links to news content through search. The additional News homepage, like Elvis, has left the building.
It’s not as if this legislative approach to extract cash from Google hasn’t been tried elsewhere in Europe. In 2011, efforts by the Belgian newspaper trade association, Copiepresse, to make Google pay up for linking to its members’ content resulted in a far less lucrative compromise than the one envisaged.
German publishers tried to do the same but ended up with legislation loose enough to let them choose whether to make Google cough up. Needless to say, it had no intention of paying up and faced with the massive loss of traffic that would ensue if Google pulled a title from Google News, the publishers all backed down.
The Spanish Government is sticking to its plan to introduce the law, for the time being at least. But The Economist’s digital editor, Tom Standage, doubts that its resolve will prove permanent. He said:
“I suspect the Spanish publishers will realize that Google News was doing them more good than harm — as the German publishers did, after their traffic plunged — and will change their minds next year.”